Free Digimap webinar: Creating 3D models from Digimap data – 26 April 2017

The Digimap team are hosting a free webinar, on Wednesday 26 April 2017, from 1-1:30pm. The session will give an overview of how to create 3D models in common GIS and CAD packages (ArcGIS Pro, QGIS and AutoCAD) using data downloaded from Digimap. The session will look at the datasets available from Digimap that are […]

IASSIST 2015 41st Annual Conference



Minneapolis, MN, USA, 2 to 5 June 2015
Host institution: Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota

The theme of the 2015 conference was Bridging the Data Divide: Data in the International Context with many of the sessions dedicated to research data management in academia, which of course is being embraced across a growing number of UK academic institutions. I seem to recall that about 20 percent of UK academic institutions have a research data management strategy in place, so these sessions were of considerable interest, and well attended.

Data Infrastructure and Applications sessions were also prominent at the conference, with some interesting presentations relevant to EDINA, and attendance quite good, especially for the Block 5, E1 session for Geospatial and Qualitative Data on Thursday, June 4, 13:30 to 15:30. My presentation on GoGeo was slotted into this session along with three others with those focussed more on qualitative data.

Plenary Sessions

The first plenary session was interesting as Professor Steven Ruggles, from the Minnesota Population Center, provided an overview of the history of the US Census and how it was at the forefront with regards to data capture, process and dissemination. The second plenary speaker, Curtiss Cobb, from Facebook, tried to make the make the case that Facebook serves as a force of social good in the world, and Andrew Johnson, from the City of Minneapolis, spoke at the final plenary session on Friday with an overview of the City’s open data policy.

Summaries of relevant presentations

3 June, Wednesday morning session:
A3: Enabling Public Use of Public Data

Mark Mitchell, from the Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC) at the University of Glasgow provided an interesting presentation titled And Data for all. The UBDC takes the Glasgow City Council’s urban open data that it has created, and makes it available to the public and to academia through its UBDC Data Portal (, which currently holds 934 datasets, primarily from the Glasgow City Council and Greater London Authority. MM noted the use of CKAN to build their data portal, and use R and QGIS  at UBDC. He also noted that there are about 300+ data portal users and try to provide good metadata records and crosslink these with their datasets.

MM noted that there was a considerable degree of metadata quality, but indicated that the Glasgow City Council planned to mandate a minimum standard for metadata quality.

Some issues were revealed, most notably differences in projections between datasets where Transport Planning used British National Grid and Health Services used northing-easting.

He also pointed out an interesting result in a survey conducted in Glasgow which revealed support for the use of personal data for societal benefit, but not for commercial interest.

He touched on the ESRC-funded Integrated Multimedia City data (iMCD) project, which is intended to capture urban life through surveys, sensors and multimedia.

Then on that same strand, he made reference to the gamification of data, which would incorporate Minecraft server and Minecraft, an interactive block game, to introduce Glasgow open data to Glasgow primary school children to make geography and maps more engaging and interesting.

More about this can be found on the UBDC website via this link.

Someone noted during questions that the Australian Bureau of Statistics has created a mobile game called Run That Town. The ABS use data from every postal area in Australia and incorporate it into this mobile game.

Run That Town gives each player the ability to nominate any Australian town and take over as its virtual ruler. Players have to decide which local projects to approve and which to reject, with the real Census data of their town dictating how their population reacts. To win, players need to maintain their popularity, making Census data core to the gameplay and giving players the chance to use the data themselves.

Mark also mentioned about collaborative efforts between UBDC and the Glasgow School of Art to create noise and light maps for the City of Glasgow, then noted that housing charities were requesting more data from the Glasgow City Council as well.

Winny Akullo, from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, delivered another presentation of this session, which provided an overview of the results of a quantitative study in Uganda that was carried out to investigate ways of improving the dissemination of statistical information there. The results indicated that the challenge remained, and one that required more resources to improve dissemination.

Margherita Ceraolo, from the UK Data Service, wrapped up the session with her presentation about the global momentum towards promoting open data including support from national governments and IGOs (e.g. IMF, World Bank and UN).

She made reference to macro data as well as boundary data, then made a reference to the UKDS building an open API for data re-use; release is scheduled for the end of 2015. She also made a reference to a map visualisation interface to display all data in their collection.

3 June, Wednesday afternoon session:
B5: Building on Common Ground: Integrating Principles, Practices, and Programs to support Research Data Management

Lizzy Rolando (Georgia Tech Library), and Kelly Chatain, from the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan, gave interesting presentations on support for research data management at their respective institutions. Session Chair, Bethany Anderson, from University Archives at the University of Illinois-Urbana, also discussed ways of integrating the work of academic archives and research data services to appraise, manage and steward data.

Some key points that they noted during their presentations included the following:

  • requiring a chain of custody for data to encourage collective ownership and responsibility;
  • make data use a higher priority over preservation; and
  • mentioned Purdue University’s policy for data retention which requires a reappraisal of data every 10 years.

These are eminently sensible approaches to data management in academia. Granted, the first one faces resistance, but if data creators and users refuse to be accountable for data, then who assumes this responsibility? Ownership needs to be addressed if data are to be managed and shared, and when it becomes a collective responsibility, then perhaps there might be more willingness as a shared activity?

Data re-use ought to be prioritised as well, and periodically assessed rather than stored on various media to be forgotten. It’s become another of many classic excuses when terabytes of data are blamed for eschewing the responsibilities of data documentation/metadata creation.

It’s uncertain, but how many spatial datasets are worth a place in archival storage? If there are spatial datasets of no value, then they should be deleted rather than saved. Question is who makes these decisions, but could assume that it would be within each department?

3 June, Wednesday afternoon late session:
C5: No Tools, No Standard — Software from the DDI Community

Listened to a presentation about the Ontario Data Documentation, Extraction Service and Infrastructure (ODESI) and the Canadian Data Liberation Initiative (DLI), with reference to Nesstar. Nesstar is a software system for data publishing and online analysis. The Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) owns it and recall it during the time I worked years ago at the UK Data Archive.

4 June, Thursday morning session:
D4: Minnesota Population Data Center (MPC) Data Infrastructure: Integration and Access

This session provided an overview of the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) project activities with most of the presentation about Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) (, which is dedicated to collecting and distributing free  and accessible census data, both US and international census data.

Interesting to note from the presentation, the number of users, with economists, the highest, at 31 percent; demographers and sociologists accounting for 16 percent; and journalists and government users at 15 percent. Only 8 percent of users were identified as geographers/GIS, though they indicated that their numbers were growing.

The North Atlantic Population Project (NAPP) was mentioned, which includes 19th and early 20th century census microdata from Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the US, so worth noting that British census data available as well.

The Terra Populus project ( was also covered and sounded quite interesting. The goal of the project is to integrate the world’s population (census) with environmental data (remotely-sensed land cover, land cover records and climate data).

There is also a temporal aspect to this which exams interactions over time between humans and environment to observe changes that take place between the two.

There is a TerraPop Data Finder being built, which is currently in beta. It holds census data, and land use, land cover and climate data.

The MPC has also been involved with the State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) Data Center, doing analysis on estimates of health insurance coverage, health care use, access and affordability using data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

4 June, Thursday afternoon session:
E1: Geospatial and Qualitative Data

There was exceptionally good attendance for this session with most of the room filled. Amber Leahey, the Data Services Metadata Librarian at the University of Toronto, was Chair of our session. Had a chance to talk to her after the session, and learned about the Scholars GeoPortal, which is an online resource for Canadian academics and students to access licensed geospatial datasets through a subscription service, much like Digimap.  Impressive portal, and data are free, though the portal provides a limited number of Canadian datasets. They encourage data creators to upload their datasets to the portal, much like Digimap ShareGeo, but face similar challenges as here.

Andy Rutkowski (USC) started the session with his presentation on using qualitative data (social media, tweets, interviews, archived newspaper classifieds, photographs) to improve the understanding of quantitative data to produce more meaningful maps, maps as social objects, a move towards spatial humanities?

He alluded to skateboarders’ information about pavement conditions at various locations in Los Angeles that led to a new skateboard park.

He also referred to Professor Nazgol Bagheri’s (UT San Antonio) work on mapping women’s socio-spatial behaviours in Tehran’s public spaces using photographs and narratives linked to GIS data from the Iranian Census, national GIS database and City of Tehran; all this to generate a qualitative GIS map that displays the gendering of spatial boundaries.

He concluded with a reference to the LA Times Mapping project, which started in 2009 and displays the neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, which have been redrawn using feedback from readers whose perceptions of boundaries differed from the original ones.

The next presentation (The Landscape of Geospatial Research: A Content Analysis of Recently Published Articles) was a joint collaboration with library staff at the University of Michigan reporting on their efforts and results to use geospatial research methods to capture information from the body of published literature. Samples of articles, from a selection of multi-disciplinary journals with spatial themes, were UID coded for content including spatial data cited, software used and research methodology; I assume with regards to software, this would be ArcGIS, ERDAS MapInfo, etc?

Metadata was also compiled for the articles, which included title, subject, author(s) subject affiliation, number of authors and their gender; this information extracted through multi-coding. Also reference to geo co-ordinate analysis and building the schema to support this information extraction.

Certainly the Unlock geo-parser ( comes to mind as being relevant to their project. We’ve already discussed the possibility of doing something similar using GoGeo to extract and harvest metadata from open access journals as publications represent the best sources for spatial data information with most publications peer-reviewed, and the data cited, so this should address data quality concerns, and the purpose for which the data were created. Each publication would also provide the author(s) name(s) and contact details for those interested in acquiring the data, which might in turn pressure researchers to release their data through GoGeo rather than face personal requests for their data.

My presentation followed and can be found on this EDINA page.
GoGeo: A Jisc-funded service to promote and support spatial data management and sharing across UK academia

One of my comments, and a photo of one of my slides, reached the IASSIST conference’s Twitterland and went viral at the conference, though I noted as well that metadata creation was important, but the reality is that after 14 years of metadata coordination both in the public sector and academia, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has actually expressed any pleasure in creating metadata.

creating metadata reality

My presentation provided an overview of EDINA , Jisc and the GoGeo Spatial Data Infrastructure, then summarised the latter’s successes and shortcoming, the former attributed to GoGeo users searching for data; the latter, GoGeo users unwilling to share their data. My presentation also offered to the audience, new approaches that would encourage spatial data management and sharing including a mandatory requirement for students to use Geodoc to document data cited in their dissertation and theses as a requirement for graduation; it’s often easier for a department to impose this requirement on its students rather than its faculty, but if students document their data, future students can access the metadata records as part of their literature review, and access data that might complement their own research data; this in turn would require university departments to take ownership of their students’ data and make available to others, so at least spatial data is shared internally. This could be restricted to the department or within a university if there is a data management policy and the infrastructure in place to support it, though if not GoGeo provides this.

The use of Geodoc and the GoGeo private catalogues was also presented as another approach to supporting spatial data information management with Geodoc used at the personal level where a researcher can document his/her spatial data, then use Geodoc to store and update those records. Then the option of exporting Geodoc records to attach to shared spatial datasets, which seems the preferred option as academics will entrust their data to colleagues rather than make them openly available; the data recipient can then import the metadata record into his/her own Geodoc to access for updating and editing. The other option is for Geodoc users, whether part of a research project group, a department, or university, to publish their metadata records to a GoGeo private catalogue, which only those with assigned usernames and passwords can access. As I manage these catalogues, I can assign these to those who’ve been granted permission to access the metadata records, and can be affiliated with the same project, but from different universities.

The hopeful outcome would be that after these records and their datasets have served their purpose, then the records would be published in GoGeo’s open catalogue and the data uploaded to ShareGeo, or a GoGeo database as it would be better to have both the metadata and data in the GoGeo portal and not separate as it the case now between GoGeo and the ShareGeo data repository, which records from 500 to 3,000 downloads a month, so better to redirect those users to GoGeo.

My presentation noted as well the Jisc commitment to providing the resources to the UK academic community in support of research data management, then noted that about 20 percent of the UK universities have a data research management policy in place.

Also in line with the Landscape of Geospatial Research: A Content Analysis of Recently Published Articles presentation, the search interface in GoGeo could be updated to search and harvest metadata from peer-reviewed open access journal publications. It would also be an important step forwards if publishers would require authors to release their data, but there seems to be no movement on that front as it is in the financial interest of most publishers to publish more, and might see this as an imposition on researchers which would result in fewer publications?

If there was any consolation, there were other presentations at IASSIST that revealed similar experiences (see 5 June, Friday morning session), so academia represents a formidable challenge both here and the US, and probably in most other countries as well?

Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh (Georgia State University) concluded the session with her presentation on qualitative research. She asked if social sciences data services librarians devoted their primary attention to quantitative researchers to the detriment of qualitative researchers, and her survey indicated that it is overwhelmingly biased towards quantitative data researchers.

5 June, Friday morning session:
F5: Using data management plans as a research tool for improving data services in academic libraries

 Amanda Whitmire (Oregon State University), Lizzy Rolando, Georgia Tech Library and Brian Westra and University of Oregon Libraries combined to offer interesting presentations.

AW talked about the DART Project (Data management plans as A Research Tool). This NSF-funded project is intended to facilitate a multi-university study to develop an analytic rubric to standardise the review of faculty data management plans for Oregon State University, the University of Michigan, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Penn State University.

This poster offers more insight about the Dart project.

She also talked about the Data Management Plan (DMP) tool, which can be used to provide a rich source of information about researchers and their research data management (RDM) knowledge, capabilities and practices. She revealed some information including the possibility of plagiarism with 40 percent of researchers sharing text and geographical research comprising only 8 percent of the RDM activities, so probably no different than here in the UK as the social sciences/geosciences seem more averse to data management and sharing. Only 10 percent of the researchers approached the RDM staff for assistance as well.

The DMP tool also has the functionality to see cross-disciplinary trends without engaging with the researchers, and with only 10 percent of the researchers approaching the RDM staff, this is probably good. She noted that the cross-disciplinary trends were high for the likes of Mathematics and Physics and low for geography, and really no surprise in this revelation.

Further assessment of information revealed that with eight research plans/practices(?) did not indicate any intent of releasing data; five plans indicated a selective release of ‘relevant data, which she interpreted as suggesting it was to the researchers’ discretion and just another way of saying ‘no’ to data sharing.

In addition, she reported that researchers’ descriptions of data types was done well, but no mention of metadata creation or data protection and data archiving; some mention of data re-use.

Lizzy Rolando revealed similar results during her presentation which involved feedback from researchers at Georgia Tech.

Asked about their plans on how they would share their data, researchers indicated the following:

– Citation in journals: 22 percent
– Conferences: 10 percent
– Repository: 9 percent
– Other repository: 7 percent

In effect, most researchers perceived that the citation of their data in journals or at conferences was effectively data sharing; only a minority seemed inclined to share their data directly.

Also, results of the survey indicated that researchers weren’t aware of metadata standards, or metadata at all, and expressed a willingness to share their data, but not willing to archive their data, again, their interpretation of data sharing seems to suggest only through citation.

LR suggested that one way to encourage researchers to create metadata was to do so informally through note taking, but then would researchers be willing to share their notes is the question I have, or would they allow librarians or others to reference their notes to create metadata?

I’ve offered my services to academics in academia, but no one has accepted the offer of providing their data for me to extract information to document their datasets, and this is a step further than asking researchers to take notes about their data.

It’s a good idea, can it succeed, though it should be a reasonable approach to data management, but without any formal structure, what will happen to the notes? Will those files be stored randomly in various media, accidentally deleted, or not properly updated to reflect changes made to the dataset?

Brian Westa from the University of Oregon, offered another summary of a similar survey conducted at his university; the survey targeted researchers in Chemistry,  Biological Sciences and Mathematics.

Asked about data documentation/description and metadata standards, 51 researchers in Biological Sciences and Chemistry acknowledged the following:

– Data description: 14
– Could identify metadata standards: 10
– Making data public: 14
– Mentioned data formats: 12

The Dryad repository was mentioned amongst the 14 who responded to making data public, but again, with only 10 respondents acknowledging familiarity with metadata standards, there are RDM issues here as well.

Feedback also indicated that most researchers were concerned about trusting others with their data, and though there were 14 respondents who acknowledged that they shared their data, most indicated that they shared their data through citation in publications and their own website, so again, a reluctance to physically share their data, and if they did actually share the data, it can be inferred that it would have been one-to-one with colleagues they could trust?

Turning to the survey for researchers in Chemistry, much the same was suggested in the results. A majority indicated that they shared their data through citations in publications and only shared data through ‘specific requests’, again trust comes into play here and assume these requests would be approved if from a close, or trusted colleague?

The respondents noted the following as methods of data sharing in this order:

– Publications
– On request
– Personal website
– Data centre
– Repository
– Conferences

None of the respondents made any reference to metadata or standards.

BW concluded with an overview of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) effort to encourage research data management and sharing, which basically requires the research community, who receives considerable NSF funding, to establish data management practices; however, BW noted that it’s not happening, though said that there was one occasion recently where continued funding for a postgrad student was withheld until the student had submitted an RDM plan to the NSF, so there has been little progress there, even from a major funding body as the NSF, and this sounds similar to experiences at NERC where researchers saw funding as a one-off, so felt no obligation to submit their data to NERC after the project was finished, though I think they were to review this and try to find another strategy that would encourage better data management and sharing.

The resistance within academia to both data management and sharing is quite concerning as access to the data should be part of the peer-review process. In this Reuters’ article, and others, it’s noted that there are publications where the data don’t hold up to scrutiny, and this is an alarming concern.

As governments continue to cut funding for research, this makes it increasingly more difficult for researchers to collect sufficient data for proper analysis, and less inclined to share their data, so will this only exacerbate the problem, or are there other issues as well, but certainly trust seems to be a key concern amongst researchers, and these presentations at the IASSIST conference reaffirm the reality here, and this reluctance to share data, and even data management seems to be too much to ask of most researchers to do. Metadata creation is so far removed from the actual data processing and analysis, and the publication of these results, hence, most researchers who would rather spend more time with their datasets than their descriptions, especially as most researchers have no intention of sharing their datasets publically, and only share it with those they trust; however, rather than taking questions about their datasets with each request, the Geodoc metadata editor tool would allow each researcher to document his/her datasets and bundle the corresponding metadata records with them to share both with their trusted colleagues.

Perhaps, over time, researchers will be willing to share both their metadata and data with the public, but that time still seems far in the future, but for now, the support must be made available to those who want to manage their data and share it with those that they can trust.

5 June, Friday afternoon 

I had planned to attend the G2 session on Planning Research Data Management Services, but had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Professor Bob Downs from Columbia University. GoGeo harvests metadata from the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center’s (SEDAC) portal catalogue, which CIESIN hosts at Columbia University, so Professor Downs had asked me about this during question time after my presentation on Thursday.

We discussed both SEDAC and GoGeo, then he mentioned to me how DataCite was useful source for locating catalogues to harvest metadata, with SEDAC’s catalogue included on the website. He’d mentioned as well about tracing the use of SEDAC data in publications through citation, which was quite impressive as the number of times was more than 1,000, so clearly demonstrating the benefit of making their data open access, and the success of the SEDAC portal.

That was IASSIST 2015 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 2016 conference will be held in Bergen, Norway.






ESRI UK Annual Conference

ESRI UK Annual Conference logoGoGeo attended the ESRI UK held annual conference in London on 19th May. The event was well attended with around 2500 delegates, making it the biggest GIS event in the UK.

The morning plenary was kicked off by Stuart Bonthrone, ESRI UK’s Managing Director, who gave an overview of the current challenges facing the world and how GIS could be used to help monitor and manage these changes. Stuart was followed by a representative from the Port of Rotterdam who used the ESRI platform to integrate and manage their spatial data in order to improve efficiency in a confined area where physical expansion of the port is no longer possible. One of the Port of Rotterdam’s key requirements was for the final system to be simple to use, with users able to find the information they require within three clicks. To prove they had achieved this they invited a group of school children in to test the final software! An inspiring talk by Walking With The Wounded followed. Their next challenge is a Walk of Britain which will cover around 1000 miles over a period of 6-8 weeks, which will be assisted by mapping services from ESRI.

The final sections of the plenary were by Charles Kennelly and by the Technical Research Team lead by Sarah Lewin.  Charles gave a detailed overview of the ArcGIS platform and explained some of the future plans, including how support for ArcMap will continue ‘as long as it is needed’, it won’t simply  be turned off since the release of ArcGIS Pro earlier this year. Sarah and the team gave a great demonstration of using the 3D visualisation and analysis capabilities of ArcGIS Pro and the Javascript library in indoor tracking applications.

ESRI UK Annual Conference Higher Education Track

Photo credit: @Addy_Pope

After the plenary, GoGeo attended the Higher Education track. The track was well attended, with some talks standing room only. A couple of the talks were more technical and may have been better suited to the GISRUK audience, but on the whole they were pitched about right and were well received. More than one speaker highlighted the wish to embed GIS in undergraduate teaching, not just in Geographic disciplines but in other subject areas where GIS could be of real benefit. Given the positive pro-GIS atmosphere around the conference it was surprising hear that Newcastle University, the only University in the UK to offer an undergraduate degree in GIS, are struggling to attract students.

In the closing plenary ESRI showcased some of their interesting R&D work. It’s good to see such a major player in the GIS world not resting on their laurels and continuing to develop the technology in exciting and innovative ways.

The ESRI Annual Conference has grown and grown over the years and this year there were nine parallel tracks meaning it was sometimes difficult to decide what to attend. With this in mind it may be useful if future events are held over two days with some repetition to allow attendees to catch more sessions.

GoGeo Mobile has been released

The GoGeo Mobile iPhone App was created bgogeoAppy EDINA at the University of Edinburgh to support teaching, learning and research.

Jisc provided support for the GoGeo App project as part of its commitment to encourage the use of new and emerging technology to support research and learning in the UK.

GoGeo Mobile is an app that allows users to keep abreast of news and events in the geospatial sector. GoGeo Mobile is separated into a number of channels including News, Events, Jobs and Resources for Teachers. Each channel contains useful and relevant resources for anyone working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing or spatial data.

In addition, GoGeo Mobile allows users to perform targeted searches for spatial data. Searches can be defined by keyword and/or location and return a brief description of the data and users can then forward themselves a direct URL to the metadata record so they can download the data when they are back at their desk.

Compatibility: Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimised for iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.

You can download the GoGeo Mobile App from the UK iTunes App Store.

Please provide Feedback to with GoGeo App in the subject field.

EDINA Geo Services at GeoDATA London Showcase 2014

Early this month, EDINA Geodata Services held an exhibit at the GeoDATA Showcase 2014 event in London. This was our second time to exhibit at this event which is aimed primarily at the commercial end of the GI industry covering current data and technology topics. This follows on from other events in the series as described previously on the GoGeo Blog.

A summary of the talks can be found online.

We had a small stand, but the positive responses we got from visitors was very encouraging: from students who are currently using Digimap in their studies, to the lecturer in a university who said that Digimap was a great resource and essential to his teaching. Even more encouraging was the number of delegates and staff on other stands, with successful careers in the GI industry, who came up and said that they had used Digimap during their studies and it was a vital to their degree. It’s good to know that the future generations in the GI industry have the expectation that they will have easy access to high quality geospatial data, readily available from Digimap (at least while they are in education!).

We talked to delegates from a wide range of industries including environmental consultancies, government, data providers, local councils, defence and education as well as visiting and talking to many of the other exhibitors. We got a lot of useful feedback on what we’re doing and ideas for what we could be doing in the future including potential opportunities for collaboration. Of particular interest to delegates was the Fieldtrip GB app we were demonstrating which is a mobile data collection platform – especially once the magic word ‘free’ was mentioned, and also that there is an Open version available on Github.

Mince pies and mulled wine near the end were a welcome break from a long day, so busy that we didn’t actually get a chance to attend any of the talks, many of which looked very interesting, however it was a very useful event to attend. We look forward to next year’s event on the 3rd December 2015.

Big Data discussions

On Tuesday, Conor Smyth, Head of Research and Geodata Services at EDINA attended the fourth Geo: The Big 5 event on Big Data hosted at IBM HQ, London.

The objective of the event was to provide a forum for knowledge exchange of the opportunities that flow from the nexus of big data and location to private and public sector businesses, incorporating technical concepts, business value and real-world use cases.

Around 90 delegates attended.  Conor observed, unfortunately, that academic representation was low amongst those 160 as those attending came to hear a number of excellent Keynote and invited speakers deliver presentations in dual stream (strategy and technical) conference programme format covering themes relating to:

Concepts – What is big data, how does location augment it and why should I care?

Data Management – Hasn’t location data always been big?

Predictive Analytics – What does location bring to the party?

Use Cases and real applications – Where is big data and location really adding business value?

Conor’s summary of the keynotes points to a set of particularly interesting speakers:

Harvey Lewis, Director of Data and Analytics research at Deloitte introduced the three Ws of ‘Big Data: What, Why, WHERE?’ WHAT is it? WHY is it important? WHERE does it come from and WHERE is it going?

Dr Phil Tetlow, Chief Architect for Big Data at IBM (UK) provided an excellent presentation on ‘The Power of Spimes’, the combination of space and time information (Spime) to create something compelling (i.e. value) that differentiate organisations in the marketplace.

Mike Whiteledge, Senior Insight Manager, (Information Management team), Marks and Spencer focused on the challenges and opportunities of the changing retail environment and customer behaviour coupled with technological advances in data handling capabilities that has allowed M&S to refine their customer offer and channel to market driving overall business benefit through the use of geographical data.

I particularly like the M&S example. I recently presented to the Scottish Learning Festival on ensuring tomorrow’s workforce are spatially literate. I highlighted the number of sectors that use geographic information and why teachers should be making use of the learning outcomes within the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence to ensure pupils at secondary schools are familiar with geographic information in an ICT setting. Wish I’d had the M&S example for that session!

Getting back to Geo: The Big 5 event, other speakers provided sectoral representation from Google, Ordnance Survey, Consultancy, Technology and Telecommunication areas.

Conor’s overall view was the event was upbeat, informative, very engaging and an excellent opportunity to hear, meet and learn from some of the leading thinkers in this space, in addition to wider networking opportunities throughout the day. But he did feel it disappointing that academic representation was low. And this sentiment follows on last month’s post on why attend commercial events – grounding oneself in how industry today are making use of GI is useful for us all.

The event forms part of a year-long series of activities marking the 25th Anniversary of the AGI and material from each event will inform a series of white papers, leading to the publication of the AGI’s third foresight report predicting future trends through to 2020.

Why attending commercial events?

I have already written a review of GeoBusiness 2014.  But I thought it was worth writing something about the nature of the event and the interaction between different sectors.

What is GeoBusiness and why was it different?

GeoBusiness is a new event.  As the name suggests, its focus is very much on businesses.  The event had 3 sides to it:

  1. Exhibition –  hardware, software and solutions from the UK sector
  2. Exhibitor workshops – exhibitors ha the chance to run workshop sessions to showcase their products
  3. Formal conference – talks by GI practitioners covering best practices and discussing the next big things in the GI sector

Why was this significant?  Well it gave attendees 3 options and allowed them to mix and match.  Not everyone is interested in listening to formal presentations, while others most certainly are.  This is, in my opinion, the key to attracting GI users from different sectors.  Once you have them all in the same place, interaction will happen. Especially if you timetable in plenty of mingling time.   At Geobusiness we saw companies that were selling the hardware to collect data, data collectors and data consumers all mixing and exchanging experiences and knowledge.

It also brought users from right across the sector together in one place.  Those that design the kit to collect data, the data collectors and the data consumers were all well represented and they had a heavily discounted rate for students.

Why should students attend these event?

For any student with GIS skills this event really was a golden opportunity to scout out potential employers.  OK, you can do some of this on the net, but rocking up to a stand and having a chat with people from the company can give you a much better insight into the organisation.  I am not talking about simply asking them if they have any jobs available, a better approach may be to ask them about recent projects or the tech that they use.  You should then be able to enquire about graduate programs or mention things from your course that are related to what they do.  This is networking.  Some people are really good at it, others just don’t feel comfortable.  The key to it is making sure that the person you are networking does most of the talking.  This takes the pressure off you and usually makes them feel like the chat went well.

Following up 

I am not sure i would recommend giving out CVs at an event.  Most people come away with a heap of paper which rarely gets looked at again Your CV may well get lost.  A better approach might be to take a business card from the person you have chatted to and send them a brief email a few days later (not that evening, their inbox will be stuffed with missed emails that have accumulated while they have been out the office).  Remind them who you are and that you think that the company sounds like one you would want to work for and ask their advice on how to apply.  It is worth checking the current vacancies page first for information about graduate jobs and current vacancies.

If you don’t have a named contact, then get a CV and covering letter together that match your skills to the companies work and send them off.  I would mention in the covering letter that you visited the company’s stand at a recent event.


Attending events can seem like a jolly, and i suppose they can be. But they are important events that bring lots of like-minded professionals together in the same place.  For an graduate, or an early career professional, such events are a gold mine of potential contact and even future employers. However, you get out what you put it. Be prepared and do your homework.

EDINA GeoForum 2014

EDINA hosts an annual gathering for it’s GeoServices with an aim to connect with users from institutions from around the country.  This years event was held in Edinburgh on the 19th June.  The event went well and there was a buzz around the informatics forum venue.  I don’t really want to provide a summary of the event as there is already a great summary on the Digimap Blog and if this doesn’t provide enough detail, the live blog transcript should (reps to @suchprettyeyes for the live blog – no idea how she can record everything in real-time).

What i would like to do here is to discuss a couple of topics that seemed to surface during the day.

Know your users

Who uses GIS data?  Geographers of course is the obvious answer, but the use of geospatial data is now much wider than just earth and environmental science.  EDINA has recognised this for some time and has worked hard to make it’s service interfaces as intuitive as possible.  In addition, there has been a conscious decision to promote best practice through the interfaces and to use the correct language so that users actually learn about GIS and geospatial terms just by using the services.

Geoservice Personas

Geoservice Personas

Geoforum provides a vital link between the service team and users.  It is our chance to speak to users directly and for users to provide feedback on what they like, what they dont like and what they would like to see in the service.

Turning Data into Information

Some users want to get their hands on the raw data so that they can use it as basedata for their own analysis, others prefer to receive a polished product that will add value to their coursework or research.  EDINA‘s geoservices tries to accomodat such diverse user needs.  The role of many geospatial professionals is to take data and turn it into useful information.


Data and Information

This message was echoed by keynote speaker Peter Gibbs of the UK Met Office.  Peter eloquently demonstrated the vast number of data sources that fed into our weather reports. The meteorologists job was to take this data, analyse it, produce a best case scenario and present this in an easy to understand format accessible to the general public.  The public don’t really care how you created the forecast, they just want to spend less than 2 minutes finding out if they need to take a brolly to work.  This encapsulates much of the geospatial industries role, turning data into usable information which can inform decisions.

 Connected systems and data

Everything is linked. Virtually nothing can be considered in isolation.  This means that many users will be consuming geospatial data from EDINA and combining it with other datasets.  EDINA has recognised this and has started to connect some of its collections in Digimap.  For example, you can create an annotation in one collection and then access it in another.  This allows users to map historic features, or trace geological features and visualise these on modern OS maps. But we are now thinking about taking this further and investigating how to overlay data from one collection in another.  There is a bit of work to be done here but it could open things up.  Why stop at just overlaying EDINA Digimap data in other Digimap collections? Would it be useful to be able to overlay external feeds from organisations such as the Environment Agency or SEPA in Digimap Roam?


The rise of the smartphone seems unstoppable.  Almost everyone has one and we are increasingly accessing web services through our mobiles.  Fieldtrip GB is a free app from EDINA that runs on Android and iPhone and allows users to collect data on their smartphone.  What does it do?

  • good, clear cartography, just as you would expect from EDINA’s geoservices team
  • users can design their own data collection forms that suit their needs.
  • the app is designed to work in “offline” mode meaning you can pre-load maps and dont require a 3G signal to use it in the field
  • exports data to csv, kml and geojson
  • did i mention it is free!

Fieldtrip GB

In addition to Fieldtrip GB, EDINA is working on a GoGeo app which will help people keep up to date with geospatial news and events as well as allowing users to discover data while on the move.

What’s on the horizon?

The geoservices team are constantly updating and upgrading services.  Some of this work is invisible to the user as it is backend stuff. Optimising databases, improving searching and just making sure the services are as fast and reliable as possible.  But there are a number of exciting projects that should offer users new functionality over the next year.  The easiest way to find out more is to flick through Guy McGarva’s forward looking presentation.

FME World Tour 2014

Another great guest post, this time by 2 of EDINA’s geodata team James Crone and Mike Gale. James and Mike attended the Edinburgh leg of FME’s 2014 World Tour which was held at Our Dynamic Earth on Thursday 15th May. EDINA use FME through Safe Software`s FME Grant Program.

FMEThe day consisted of a series of presentations covering new features of the latest 2014 release of FME and how FME is being used locally within Scotland and the UK. The quality of the presentations was very high being pitched to a technical audience and presented by an enthusiastic set of presenters who in many cases were not afraid to start FME Workbench up, build/edit geoprocessing workspaces up and then run them live in front of an audience. In doing so brilliant tips on how to use FME Workbench more efficiently were demonstrated. There was also a lot of audience participation to break the formal presentations up including an FME Cool Wall and the FME Quiz, more on which later.

Of the presentations, our highlights were:

Managing the Angus Council back-office and supporting the GI infrastructure with FME

During this talk, the presenters from the Angus Council GIS team, who introduced themselves as sharks with lasers, demonstrated the wide use that FME had been put to within a Scottish local authority, Angus Council. Through some FME workbench wizzardy FME processing flowlines were used to help with the planning process (applications for Wind Farms) and harmonising LLPG (Local Land and Property Gazetteers) data. One great quote that came from this presentation was that FME allowed Angus to provide “A single version of the truth� – which if you have ever worked in a local authority you will completely understand!!!

FME`s MapnikRasterizer makes happy cartographers.

Mapnik is an open source map renderer initiated by Artem Pavlenko and tiles rendered through Mapnik provide the default layer in OpenStreetMap. We`ve been using Mapnik for some internally within EDINA to render geospatial datasets directly from Python without the need to go to the trouble of firing up a GIS application. In this talk David Eagle from 1spatial ran through the features of the new FME MapnikRasterizer. The FME MapnikRasterizer is an FME transformer which can be dropped into any FME Workbench Workspace and used to create a map rendering of features being processed which is pretty cool. Combining this with other transformers to create tilesets makes things even more interesting. One of my pet hates is having to manually set up styles using GUI`s, it being more efficient to do so in an external file, with this in mind one of the things shown during the presentation is that the MapnikRasterizer can be supplied with the sets of styles to be rendered coded up in an external spreadsheet which is neat.


FME process optimisation, an exercise in best practice at the Ordnance Survey

In this talk, David Eagle talked about how FME technologies sit at the heart of the data update/verification process used by the Ordnance Survey to keep MasterMap up to date and how they`ve been able to optimise the processes to make things more efficient. This included some best practices were are shown in this set of slides:


BIM – Building Information Modelling


While not included directly as a presentation – it is clear that one of the hot topics at the moment with FME is BIM. Several of the talks referenced BIM and indicated large expected future use. As the UK Government is planning to adopt BIM as a data standard in 2016 the demand for BIM data is going to explode over the next year. Speaking directly with one of the guys from 1Spatial – FME can currently read BIM data but not write to the format. This is all about the change with a BIM writer currently being designed and a beta release is scheduled for September. So currently it’s a case of watch this space

UK BIM Task group:

If the UK leg of the FME world tour get around to uploading presentations of the event this is where you can find them:

Outwith the formal presentations, the wonderful 1spatial people ran 2 sessions to generate audience participation – the FME Cool Wall and the FME Quiz.

Most people should be familiar with BBC Top Gear`s Cool Wall where Jeremy Clarkson et al place a picture of a new sports car on a wall divided into sections indicating how cool the car is from uncool to cool to subzero. Well at the FME World Tour, the audience split into 4 groups, each group came up with 3 new features of FME or how FME was being used and these were then added to the FME Cool Wall.

Across the groups the ability of FME to perform complex geoprocessing without any need to write code was a resounding subzero coolness although at the same time the sometime bewildering number of transformers available in FME Workbench and knowing which one to pick when 2 or more seemed to do similar things was uncool.

The day finished off with the FME Quiz in which a series of multi-choice questions on all things FME were shown and the audience had to reply via email on their smartphones. EDINA won the prize for the first question as we twigged early on that setting up an email in GMail so that we could quickly submit our answer was a good strategy. As it was the first question, Mike and I got the first look at the prize swag on offer and grabbed a pair of FME World Tour 2014 t-shirts in a lovely shade of olive green with an FME dirgable on the front and a series of tour dates listed on the back.

So overall a very useful and extremely useful technical day and thanks to the highly enthusiastic 1spatial team for all the insights into FME.

GeoBusiness 2014 – a preview

GeoBusiness_smallGeoBusiness 2014 is less than a week away.  This is a new event and I am looking forward to seeing what it will be like.  The organisers have certainly pushed the event, with short magazine inserts listing who is exhibiting and presenting.  GoGeo will be there and i thought i would explain why we are attending and what we hope to get out of the event.

It’s new and it’s big

Pretty self-explanatory, but also significant.  This is a chance to speak to all the major software vendors and find out what enhancements they have in the development.  In addition, there are a host of companies that offer GI service.  I want to see what these are up to and report on what looks innovative and interesting.  These companies collectively employ a significant number of GIS graduates each year.  Many of them are exploiting new and emerging technology such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).  As such, they are really quite dynamic places to be employed as a fresh-faced graduate.


There are a number of interesting workshops being run by companies to highlight what innovative analysis they are doing. There seems to be a clusters of workshops around 3D laser scanning, UAV’s and Business Information Modeling (BIM).  There is also a strand that focuses on professional development.


Content for GoGeo and perhaps even ShareGeo.  So that means news articles, blog posts and so on for  GoGeo.  With ShareGeo it would be great to get some sample data from some companies so that lecturers could use this in their lessons.  I will be looking to convince some of the UAV and scanning companies to give some data with ShareGeo.  If you don’t know what ShareGeo is, it is a repository for open geo-spatial data that enhances teaching, learning and research.

So if you already have a ticket I might see you there. If you don’t have a ticket, there is still time and there are special rates for students (£25 per day if you pre-book).  Students, do your research on the companies attending and speak to people to find out what they do, it is a great opportunity to see the diverse range of jobs that is available in the GI market.

Geobusiness 2014 website